Sunday, September 1, 2013


John Freeman: Fair Weather Road 2013
Does this image
remind you of Alberta or what?
I have always loved the Nickle Galleries. I took my lunch hours and coffee breaks there for twenty years. I watched for curator’s talks, artist’s talks and for the gallery's Opening Receptions. The exhibitions for the students graduating with their Masters of Fine Arts Degrees is also held in that space.

The old building is now being torn down, but the gallery is still available in the Taylor Family Digital Library and that is where I met my friend, Fazeela. I checked the gallery out the day before so that I knew it would be worth our collective time.

If you have been to the Nickle you will know that one of their mandates is to collect Alberta works. Three new pieces caught my attention. 

The first was rough fescue – 3 specimens of it hanging from the ceiling so that the work was right at eye level. Three clumps of rough fescue, a natural prairie grass, had been dug up.

One was in pristine condition.

One specimen had been eaten, so the part that was above ground was half gone.

And one specimen had been overgrazed, so there wasn’t much left.

Photo credit:
The root systems of all three bunches were full exposed, hanging like a mobile. 

The roots of the first, maybe four feet long.  The roots of the second, maybe only two feet long.  Perhaps only 12 inches of root on the last plant. 

Fazeela and I studied the art piece for a long time, my hands locked to my side because there was so much desire in me to touch the root systems – kind of to check that what I was seeing  was real and not a mirage.  Maybe I wanted to say to the third, I know, I know, this is terrible, you have been used up and you aren't going to live much longer.

Fazeela asked me if I grew up on a farm.

Rough Fescue
No. I grew up in the city, though there was a field behind my house, a hill that sloped into a swamp which is why I may feel I grew up on a farm having access to that natural spot, there in the middle of the city.

“Why do you know so much about this,” she continued as I chatted to her about the risks in over grazing.

line drawing“I don’t know. I think I am channeling my father. He would talk to us in the car as we drove. He loved the Alberta prairie and he must have been deepening our childhood understanding of why it was important to him.”

We moved on to study a pictorial exhibit of a man who builds eight feet of a white picket fence every year, extending it west and never maintaining what has gone before. He started the project in 1990. Now in 2013 there is one extended print, I am guessing 24 feet long, though I may be underestimating its length. At any rate, Fazeela and I walked back and forth for a long time studying the deterioration of the fence and the encroachment of the prairie on its earliest pieces.

I don’t know if it was because our time was up, or because the subject was distasteful, but the third exhibit I wanted to see again is a video of a cow in an abattoir – the cow’s last six minutes of life. How Albertan is that! You can sit in the darkened room and watch the cow in the pen and the man holding the gun on the left of the screen. Fazeela passed on sitting there for six minutes. I had taken the time the day before, I did want to chat with her after she had seen it. Get her reaction. Maybe next time.

Invitation to the Nickel
If you are interested in seeing for yourself, the exhibit is advertized as ECOTONE @ Nickle Galleries. Part Two of a two-part project in conjunction with the Field Notes Collective and the Alberta Rural Development Network. Presented in collaboration with Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge. 9 August – 19 October 2013.



  1. Thanks for the trip to the Nickel. Amazing stuff. all fascinating. the road picture sounds the.most restful. I thunk I could watch the cow die .. but I am not sure. it might make me did vegetarian again.

  2. I wondered what I was getting into when I walked into the darkened room -- a large room, a large screen, one two-seater bench in the middle of the room. Cavernous because of the high ceilings. Just room for 2 people to sit on the bench, and the large room might add some emptiness or loneliness to the ambiance. I did find myself looking over my shoulder a number of times to see if I was being followed.

    There is background noise going on for the audio -- like you might hear if you were in a large factory.

    To put your mind at rest, I did not see the animal killed, but I did watch for six minutes and then suddenly the screen went black.

    If you want to know more, keep reading. The animal looks to the right, then kind of behind itself, sometimes raises its head over the bars straight ahead, sometimes looks through an opening in the bars. The animals seems calm. How would this be different than any other pen it is has been in.

    A man in a hard hat stands there with a gun. You see the rifle go up, and then go down as he waits for the perfect moment.

    Now? Would this make you a vegetarian again?

    I don't know. I have been eating bruschetta all day, made from Moiya's tomatoes at the lake. As well, Mak wanted to learn to make pie today, so I did two with him: an apple pie and a plum/apple/pear spiced pie which we have yet to crack into. But the fact of me eating fruit and vegetables all day is only because it is fall when the harvest is at its best and not because I saw the video at Ecotone.

  3. Arta, you have shared the most beautiful, did you say 20 years long continuous biographical blog? and always unselfishly focussed on your readers and delightfully entertaining them with your gentle humour.

    Thanks for always including me, and always encouraging me to respond. Thanks for the excellent photography that graced your peerless prose

  4. I have been writing for a long time, maybe 20 years, but not blogging that long. Not even four years, yet. A late bloomer on that score.

    Doral Johnson is the one who told me to include some pictures. So I try. I was at the park today with Michael and wishing that I had my camera along. Or even a pen and a pencil. But I only had that little boy there with his fuchsia sequined shoes, him taking them off and giving them their own rides down the slide before he followed them down. Cute to see all of that. When he is older he will be glad I didn't get a picture of it.